Review: Robert Plant Live at the Marquee

In 2013 the American business magazine Forbes ran an article on Robert Plant. Now that in and of itself isn’t unusual – the magazine is somewhat renowned for its annual lists, which frequently include rankings of the wealthiest musicians in the world.

And as bona-fide rock royalty and the front man of arguably the world’s first truly global stadium rock act (not to mention co-author of a little ditty called ‘Stairway to Heaven’), Robert Plant is no stranger to such lists.

The 2013 article however wasn’t about Plant’s considerable wealth.  Instead it focused on what this aging Rock God could teach CEOs and celebrities.

With his humble, self-effacing demeanor, obvious antipathy towards nostalgia and outright refusal to make artistic or personal concessions for financial gain (his reluctance to green-light a Led Zeppelin reunion tour which could conceivably rake in more than €1 billion being just one very obvious example), Forbes argued that Plant embodied the antithesis of today’s celebrity driven, winner takes all culture.

Rather than hang desperately onto former glories, it depicted Plant as an ego-less iconoclast more concerned with setting a new agenda for himself. Say what you like about Forde’s and its own capitalist-driven agenda, but they certainly nailed it with that particular article.

And so to today, and rather than reliving past glories in front of sold out stadiums with his former troupe, Robert Plant is here in the relatively intimate environs of the Marquee in Cork, about to embark on his own personal musical journey.

Yes, there are Led Zeppelin songs scattered throughout the set, along with some traditional folk and blues covers, but what truly separates Plant from his weary contemporaries is his staunch refusal to simply trade on past glories. The material on offer might be familiar, but this is certainly no karaoke style, re-hash of the hits.

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Backed by the (appropriately titled)  Sensational Space Shifters, Plant attacks his  source material with a vigour and passion  that belies his years. He doesn’t thread softly  around genuine classic such as ‘Black Dog’  and ‘Rock N’Roll’, preferring instead to  imbue them with the influences of new  genres and styles that better encapsulate his  own personal tastes.

The aforementioned ‘Black Dog’ gets a worldly, exotic make-over courtesy of the inclusion of a Gambian Riti (a one-stringed fiddle), while elsewhere bodhrans and banjos are whipped out and added to the brewing sonic stew.

Zeppelin numbers are introduced with no great fanfare, and routinely stripped of their bombast and bluster. In the very capable hands of the Space Shifters they reveal themselves to be lithe and subtlety crafted compositions. Vocally Plant knows his limits. Gone are the frequent, piercing screams of yesteryear. He knows better than anyone the range his vocal chords can reach, and frankly the set is all the better for it. And anyway, most vocalists today still couldn’t hold a candle to Plant when it comes to singing.

‘Tin Pan Valley’ coasts on a delicate piano motif and swirling e-bowed guitars before the full force of their power is brought to bear. It’s a wonderful reminder that amidst all the exotic instrumentation, and outright allusions to the influence of folk and blues, there’s still a kinship with primal, thunderous rock music.

DK25062014 Marquee 021‘Going to California’ is about as authentic as it gets in terms of the source material on offer, while Anne Bredon’s ‘Babe I’m Going to Leave’ and the traditional arrangement ‘Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down’ are acoustically driven moments of rarefied beauty.

Before the curtains come down we’re treated to a boisterous ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and a rampaging ‘Rock N’Roll’. It’s a lean, eclectic 90 minute set, all killer, no filler, delivered with style, grace and panache by a true musical icon. Long may he continue to strut his stuff to his own inimitable beat!


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Cork music since 2010
Millroom 2,
3rd Floor,
Thompson House,
MacCurtain Street,
Cork City,
Conor O'Toole
Graham Lynch